Beta'd by the serene Insane Scriptist.

This is the last chapter I have written up. I will now be taking a few months' break from writing Black Sky -as I did about this time last year and the year before- to give Muse space to ponder upcoming plotlines and to do different things. I've written 102 chapters of this story in the past nine months and I can feel myself flagging, so a break now will keep me from burning out and losing interest, which I don't want to do at all.

I hope you enjoy this chapter and that I'll see you all later!

Of homecoming and priorities

Dorea stood in front of her full-length dressing room mirror, turning this way and that a few more times before deciding that yes, she was satisfied. This was far more minimalistic than her usual choice of dress, but it was comfortable and would work just fine for both sitting in the back of the Bentley and meeting her husband on the airstrip in today's good weather, which was what mattered. She had a shawl and this particular style of dress did not require a hat for outdoor wear, so he'd be able to see that she was wearing one of the flower pieces he'd made her –a hair comb– and that it matched the blooms embroidered on her gown.

A gleeful inner voice was currently speculating on whether he'd be capable of forming coherent sentences after setting eyes on her, which was perhaps rather wicked of her, but she was married and gently teasing her husband in public with her wardrobe choices was perfectly admissible. It wasn't like her clothing was indecent: the skirt of her Empire-line gown fell right to the floor, the neckline, while low, was not immodest and although the material of the dress was rather sheer, the ankle-length petticoat she was wearing underneath it was entirely opaque.

Yes, she did have nightdresses that left more of her body to the imagination, but that was not the point. The point was that her outfit was perfectly acceptable for wearing in public by wizarding standards and mundane standards were far more lax. Nobody would be commenting on anything other than on her being at the airport in the first place, which was admittedly a little eager of her but she really did miss her husband. Daniela was with Luna today, so she didn't have to worry about missing her daughter's feeding times, and her older children were all at Black Manor with Leo and her other cousins, including Trish who had dragged herself out of her laboratory so as to fill her socialisation quota for the month.

Humming cheerfully, Dorea pulled on her gloves and draped her shawl snugly around her shoulders, then set out downstairs to where one of the younger Mr Stewarts had readied the car; the plane was due to arrive in about half an hour and she wanted to be there promptly. She would have her husband to herself for the rest of today and hopefully for a large chunk of tomorrow as well, as while the children would be back from visiting by then, they would still have their lessons and other activities to be getting on with for much of the day. She had deliberately cleared her schedule and her husband had promised to remain at home for a few days, so they could do with the time as they wished.

It would be very pleasant indeed to have some space just for herself and Xanxus to be together in.

Visconti was driven to the airport by one of Vongola Housekeeping's professional driver-bodyguards, who had done this journey countless times and knew exactly where to take the car in order to access the small private landing area adjacent to the main runway that was exclusively for meeting private flights. Upon arriving at the edge of the tarmac however the Cloud Guardian hesitated to get out of the vehicle: the Varia's private plane had not yet landed, but there were five other cars parked nearby, the doors open despite the breeze and a range of men standing around talking amongst themselves.

Varia assassins. Visconti was not entirely sure he'd be welcomed. However as the driver parked the vehicle at a short distance from the rest of the line-up, the Vongola Guardian noticed that the nearest car was definitely not a Varia vehicle; the Varia would not have a Bentley, they were far too memorable and shockingly expensive besides. The classic car's rear passenger door was standing open and two Varia were leaning against the side of the vehicle, apparently chatting to whoever was seated inside.

Wait, that was Don Scarlatti's daughter with her elbow on the roof; she'd been left as nominal second-in-command in Xanxus's absence, which implied she was highly placed in the Varia's internal power structure despite not actually being an Officer. Possibly being considered for an Officer position? She had attended the Superbi wedding alongside Xanxus and his Officers, which was fairly suggestive of the authority granted her in her boss's absence being an opportunity and a test.

Over on the runway another plane came into land. Glancing across the open space, Visconti recognised the Varia's private plane by its shape and briskly climbed out of the car; he had an image to uphold and it wouldn't be long until his Sky was here. The marked increase in noise levels as he climbed out of the vehicle was a touch uncomfortable, but all sensible Actives learned to use their Flames protect their hearing from sudden loud sounds and planes, while louder and more sustained than gunshots, were not as intrusive as explosions could be.

"Sumu," he said, nodding politely to the Scarlatti heiress; she was probably in charge here, so greeting her meant he could get away with not knowing anybody else's names.

"Visconti," the young woman replied, turning his way with a faint smile. "I believe you are acquainted with Boss-Lady?"

Visconti didn't recognise the title, but then the assassin who had been standing behind Sumu stepped forward and offered a hand to whoever was sitting in the Bentley and the identity of the individual she was referring to abruptly became clear:

It was Xanxus's wife, the Lady Black-Potter, wearing another historical gown. Early Napoleonic neoclassical style this time, all gauzy white linen embroidered with pink flowers at the hems and a deep green woollen shawl wrapped around her shoulders to protect her from the wind. Visconti wasn't sure how he'd missed her presence; Skies were not subtle. Except it seemed that Xanxus had somehow found one who was, because even now he knew she was there, he could barely sense her Flames at all. Not merely compressed under her skin, but muted almost entirely; that was very peculiar.

"Signora," he said politely, bowing without offering her his hand. Skies generally didn't shake hands, or at least it was considered rude to attempt to shake hands with a Sky unless they offered first. Visconti wasn't sure where that social rule had come from, but all the Skies he'd ever met adhered to it.

"Guardian," she said in return, inclining her head in acknowledgement. "My husband tells me they will be disembarking within the next quarter of an hour."

The other assassins standing around immediately smartened up and set about looking busy, a group of four jogging over towards the nearby cluster of ground handling equipment and moving it around with surprisingly experienced professionalism.

"Ground handling qualifications are compulsory for Varia members," Sumu said matter-of-factly, her words drawing his attention back to the two ladies in front of him.

"That seems eminently practical," Visconti admitted; it allowed for a high degree of secrecy and security, while also providing the Varia with a wide range of additional assassination opportunities, since those qualifications enabled them to take on a range of undercover positions as well as see to the disposition of their private aircraft without leaving a paper trail.

The plane had now landed and was taxiing towards them on the near side of the runway; Visconti suspected it would only be ten minutes before the passengers began to disembark, not fifteen. The Varia hardly had to adhere to commercial health and safety policies and if they all had handling training, then they could be allowed to disembark the moment the plane had stopped without waiting for anybody else to set up the air stair.

The first person out of the plane was, surprisingly enough, Xanxus himself. He took the steps two at a time, jumped the last four, bounded across the tarmac to where his wife was waiting for him and swept her off her feet in a tight embrace, burying his face in her neck as his Flames flared around them both. Visconti turned away, letting the couple have their privacy as the rest of the passengers disembarked.

There were rather more of them than he'd expected considering the Varia had only brought four vehicles to meet them, but then at last it was Timoteo at the top of the stairs, being assisted by Erica as he began his careful descent. Visconti hurried over to meet his Sky at the foot of the air stair, greeting the man with a warm hug and then leading the way back towards the car. The driver was not standing with the vehicle –probably extracting Timoteo's luggage from Varia hands, which would hopefully not take many moments– but the doors were open and his Sky's knees were not what they had been.

Timoteo however paused halfway to the car, interrupting Visconti's steady explanation of why he was the only Guardian present and the changed requirements and layout of the Iron Fort's security following the overhaul. Turning to see what had distracted his Sky, the Cloud Guardian noted that Xanxus was still holding his wife up off the ground, but was now enthusiastically exploring her tonsils with his tongue. He had also shifted his grip from her waist to her behind and upper back, which she very clearly was not objecting to in the slightest despite her shawl now trailing off one shoulder towards the ground. Off to one side there was a cheery wolf-whistle, followed by a sharp reprimand from Squalo Superbi:

"VOOOI! Stop dicking about, trash!"

Visconti's Sky started at the volume of the rebuke, clearly audible even over the fading whine of the aeroplane engines and the distant roar of another plane taking off, and took a slightly shuffling step towards the couple. The Cloud instantly and firmly steered Timoteo around and onwards, taking advantage of his own superior mobility to do so. "You can talk to Xanxus later, Timoteo," he said conciliatorily when his Sky frowned up at him in response to the physical deflection. "He'd take offense at an interruption right now and there's a lot of business you need to catch up with." Past his Sky's shoulder Visconti noticed an unexpectedly small person bouncing down the air stair in the company of a pair of assassins –a child? Something to investigate later– then put the matter out of his mind in favour of keeping Timoteo focused on him.

The dementia would create all kinds of difficulties for the Vongola, which would only escalate until Timoteo retired, but if Visconti was attentive and patient he could hopefully get a feel for the damage and monitor its progression, so as to prevent his Sky from burning too many of the Family's bridges in his illness.

He'd already spoken to his fellow Guardians about their Sky's condition and found the diagnosis paperwork in Timoteo's medical file to back up his reasoning, so it at least wouldn't be just him doing all the work. Coyote was still somewhat in denial over the extent of the problem, but he was the only one; Brow Nie was feeling more guilty over missing the issue than anything else, Ganauche had instantly promised to do anything he could to help, Bouche had made a few practical suggestions for subtly reducing and delegating Don Vongola's workload that Visconti was already enacting and Brabanters had quietly volunteered to help soften the inevitable irrational anger that afflicted all dementia sufferers when they felt wronged in some way.

It was triage and delaying the inevitable rather than a solution, but Xanxus had the Vongola Rings now and Visconti knew the Varia Boss both loved the Family dearly and had an excellent mind, so he would leave the matter of selecting an appropriate Decimo in the much younger man's capable hands. Timoteo was no longer able to make a wise choice and the rest of the Ninth Generation would be too busy attending to their Sky, so this was the best possible option available to them.

Not that Visconti would be leaving it entirely to his Sky's adopted son, but there was certainly no need to micromanage the process. Not when he had the far more urgent mess with the External Advisor to coax Timoteo through, which would certainly require all his diplomatic efforts if he was to achieve a result that the Alliance was satisfied with and Nono was prepared to carry out.

Xanxus ignored the old fart getting hustled off by Visconti, ignored the diffuse amusement of his subordinates and the shark's somewhat theatrical ire at getting left to keep everybody else in line; none of that mattered. What mattered was kissing his wife, blending his Flames with hers and making sure she knew how much he appreciated her coming out to meet the plane. Feeling her on the ground as the plane landed had been one thing, but hurrying down the stairs and getting to really see her standing there, wearing the skimpiest dress he'd ever seen her in –the wind making the loose skirts cling to every line and curve of her legs– and the rose mallow he'd made for her in her hair–

His wife was beautiful and delightful and he loved her wicked teasing ways. The dress had more rose mallow embroidered all along the hems and neckline in shades of pink and maroon offset by the green of the leaves –rose mallow meant 'consumed by love' and she was wearing it for him– and when he'd wrapped his arms around her he'd realised she wasn't even wearing a corset under the slip he could see through the semi-sheer material. The only thing between that petticoat and her glorious skin was a thigh-length chemise; he could feel its hem of through the thin material of the outer layers and Xanxus ached to get her alone so he could take advantage of how little she was wearing.

Kissing her and running his hands over her body through her dress would have to do for now though –wife was his and not for sharing– but with the way she was snuggling against his chest inside his jacket and tugging on his tie, gloved fingertips teasing his skin, she was making it very hard for him to remember that.

"Killing me," he whispered hoarsely between kisses.

"You die magnificently," she murmured in French, making him groan at the innuendo and bury his face in her neck, sucking on the skin just above the pearl necklace she was wearing. Fuck; he'd thought his trousers were tight before

His wife reciprocated by leaning further into him and biting the side of his throat just hard enough to sting, nibbling a trail up from his collarbone to behind his ear. "Mine," she crooned in his ear, making his fingers dig into her thigh and upper back at the flash of sheer lust that breathy claim inspired.

"Want," he panted, lifting his head to kiss her again now the hicky was glowing scarlet against her pale skin.

"Yours," she assured him in between kisses, all her emotions laid bare across their bond and eagerly urging him to escalate.

"Car," he managed, forcing himself to loosen his grip on her. She slid down his front with a sigh, landing on the balls of her feet and very deliberately twisting to lean her hip firmly into his groin; Xanxus gasped at the dancing white sparks that swarmed briefly across his vision and failed to entirely strangle the plaintive sound emerging from his throat in response to her exquisite cruelty.

"Er, Boss? What d'you want us to do with Fuuta?"

Right. Brat. Plan had been..?

"Mr Stewart," Xanxus managed to enunciate in English, turning his head just far enough to meet the man's eye over the top of his wife's head; he didn't know which Stewart this one was, but the family resemblance was telling and his wife didn't let anybody else drive her cars. "Orphan, magical."

"I'll see to his disposition then, milord," the driver drawled easily, instantly turning to smile at the Ranking Prince and switching language. "Pleased to meet you young man; let's get you settled in the front seat, shall we?"

"I will ask for those details later," his wife murmured in Russian, rising on tiptoes to press a kiss to the underside of his chin. "But first," she glanced up to meet his eyes, fulminating him with the playful darkness clear within her own, "car. Now."

Hustling her into the magically spacious back seat took several seconds longer than Xanxus would have preferred, but once the door was closed he pounced, no longer constrained by the presence of an audience.

"Mine," he growled, pinning her to the leather upholstery as he knelt in the footwell, shoving at her skirts so he could bite his way up her inner thigh.

"Yes, please," she promised in return, digging gloved hands into his scalp and squirming deliciously as his fingers found her most sensitive tissues.

Xanxus didn't have the patience for slow right now, but once they'd both taken the edge off there'd be time enough for that and more; he fully intended to make the most of their having the house to themselves for the evening. Later. Right now he wanted to wreck his wife hard for showing up to meet him in a dress skimpier than some of her nightgowns, one that showed off just enough of her legs to shatter his usual composure.

Her gasps and whimpers were swiftly demolishing what little remained of his self-control, but he barely cared now; he had his wife in his arms, could taste her on his tongue and feel her pleasure shuddering urgently under his skin like a second heartbeat. Nothing else mattered.